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Is your process up to the obsolescence challenge?

24 May 2013  | Bob Chesla, Nora Gibbs, Lisa Cairns

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Recognising the wide impact that a single EOL event can have better informs design engineers in making decisions, providing strategic solutions, and determining the best design and business paths forward. The following scenarios capture some of the most common situations faced during EOL and LTB events and typical solution paths to follow.

Scenario 1: If there has not been any history of buying the part for multiple years, it is not currently being designed into any new products, and there is no future forecast; the only action required is to procure enough components for repair stock before the LTB date is due.

Scenario 2: If an alternate supplier or an alternate component is already approved on the approved supplier list, no engineering, marketing or production action is required and additional time savings is gained while maintaining quality levels. After verifying the alternate, and that an approved supplier is able to fulfil component requests and that supplier does not have any EOL notices pending for that component, then Purchasing can change the contract to the alternate component (in the case that the alternate component is approved) or to the alternate supplier (in the case the alternate supplier is approved) and the issue can be closed.

Scenario 3: If a replacement is identified and it is deemed a form, fit, and function drop-in replacement for every application the component is used in; either by specification review or by testing of samples; then the replacement can be approved. However; before final approval can be given, each application using the component must be reviewed to see if there are any certification agency requirements for either the component or the product that would restrict approving an alternate supplier or component without meeting certain requirements to retain agency approval. Also, if testing of samples is required; it must be determined which applications using the component require testing and which ones can accept on specification review only. When testing is required, it must be determined what tests need to be performed (i.e., functional, heat, cold, electrical noise, shock, vibration, humidity, signal integrity, etc.). If the tests will require an extended period of time to be completed, a bridge buy should be performed on the existing component that is going obsolete provided the order is placed prior to the LTB date. This will allow time for the qualification process on the replacement to be completed.

Scenario 4: If a replacement is identified; but it is not a form, fit and function drop-in replacement, all of the applications using the component need to be identified. Engineering must decide if the suggested alternative is an acceptable option, if a redesign would be required and what agency certifications will be affected. If testing of samples is required; it must be determined which applications using the component require testing and which ones can be accepted on specification review only. When testing is required, it must be determined which tests need to be performed, such as functional, heat, cold, electrical noise, shock, vibration, humidity, signal integrity, etc. If the tests will require an extended period of time to be completed, again, a bridge buy should be performed on the existing component that is going obsolete provided the order is placed prior to the LTB date.

This will allow time for the qualification process on the replacement to be completed. In cases where a redesign is required, it is critical to take proactive measures to review all the other components used on the Bill of Material (BOM) to assess if any other components are at risk of going obsolete and address them at one time. It is very costly and time consuming to receive another EOL on a different component after a redesign was just completed, tested and approved for the previous EOL part. Proactive companies like Rockwell Automation have predictive software tools that can scrub a BOM for potential high risk or potential EOL components.

Scenario 5: If a replacement cannot be identified and a redesign is not warranted or feasible, then either a LTB will need to be placed before the LTB date or a long-term inventory management solution for the part will need to be put in place with an appropriate supplier. As part of this exercise, the life time usage and repair requirements for all applications using the component going EOL will need to be calculated. LTB quantities should coincide with other LTBs used on same products; that way LTB quantities run out at the same time.

Each of these scenarios is represented in the decision tree shown in the figure.

Figure: Decision and procedure tree for EOL component notification.



Some PCN challenges and options
While the above scenarios are commonly associated with the EOL stages, knowing how to make the best choices in the more taxing situations is where learning from experience has its greatest value.
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